Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 1999 /7 Kislev, 5760
Good reason for chaotic state of American
IF YOU DON'T THINK America is currently confused about sex, consider
the conflicting messages in a spate of news stories, over the last few
An influential court denies the connection between morality and
sexuality, while Congress encourages public posting of the Ten
Commandments-which include emphatic prohibitions on adultery. The legal
system reinstates a gay scoutmaster, while another scoutmaster is
expelled for engaging in embarrassing (but not illegal) heterosexual
behavior. Governor Jesse Ventura speaks without shame f his frequent past
visits to prostitutes, while a high school teacher gets suspended - and
then partially reinstated-for taking his wife to a sex club. The former
Speaker of the House provokes universal condemnation for his extramarital
affair, while press and public manage to defend other office holders for
even more irresponsible behavior.
The twisty, squiggly line of logic that connects these various cases
only serves to illustrate the collapse of all consensus in society's
prevailing view of sex. We can no longer agree on how to strike an
appropriate balance between private behavior and public judgment, between
intimate choices and immutable standards.
Consider one of the more radical voices in the ongoing debate--- the
unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey in the
case of gay activist scoutmaster James Dale. The most revolutionary
aspect of their judgment involved their bald assertion that the
organization had no legal right to define morality in terms of sexual
The Boy Scout Oath obliges demands that all scouts should be
"morally straight," but the court declared that "the words 'morally
straight'… do not, on their face, express anything about sexuality,"
(italics added). In a concurring opinion, Justice Alan B. Handler found
that "Boy Scouts' adherence to 'traditional moral values'…. remain
undisturbed by Dale's open avowal of his homosexuality."
The same week that the New Jersey decision attracted national
headlines, another scoutmaster faced expulsion from his Orlando, Florida
troop for questionable, off-duty self-expression of another sort. Local
authorities found Clark Getz, 42, buck naked and hanging by his ankles
from a tree in an incident of "a sexual nature."
The executive for the
regional Scout council declared: "We don't condone the type of behavior
he has done. It is not proper for a role model." Since the case has so
far failed to draw law suits or protests we are left to assume that the
Scouts have a right to demand that their leaders keep away from kinky
heterosexual sex, but have no right to demand that those role models
avoid public commitment to homosexuality.
We also, apparently, expect teachers to serve as role models --- an
expectation that produced a lavishly controversial case in another part
of Florida. Kenneth Springer, former "teacher of the month" at South
Broward High School, took his wife of 20 years to a local "swingers" club
to enjoy the party atmosphere.
Though police arrested him during a raid,
they eventually dropped charges of lewd conduct. Nevertheless, his school
board initially voted to suspend Springer without pay-then reconsidered
to continue paying him for non-classroom responsibilities while
authorities agonized over his fate. For the moment, at least, they seem
utterly unable to decide whether public involvement with unconventional
sexual activity (even with his own wife) disqualifies him from working
with high school students.
In an indignant letter concerning this controversy, Nicole Nielsen of
Salt Lake City, Utah told USA TODAY: "What does morality have to do with
sexual behavior?…I frequently hear people denounce certain sexual
behaviors as immoral. I don't get it." Instead of defining morality in
terms of sexual restraint, Nielsen emphasizes political correctness and
public activism. "Morality is about justice," she writes, "about being
fair and about granting civic equality to everyone. It is about tolerance
and respect for all people and animals with which we share the world."
Many members of the Hollywood elite seem to endorse these
sentiments-including acclaimed director Sydney Pollack. Concerning the
female lead in his current movie "Random Hearts" (a box-office
disappointment), Pollack observed that the character "is right when she
says adultery doesn't mean anything to anybody except the people it's
happening to. Our society is pretty blasé about it."
If this is true, then why have all the major Presidential candidates,
Democratic as well as Republican, listed support for the institution of
marriage as a top national priority? If adultery represents a serious
threat to marriage, and marriage remains essential to the health of this
society, then isn't adultery a potent social threat - significant far
beyond "the people it's happening to?"
America once knew clear answers to such questions, but the old
certainties washed away with the high tide of sexual revolution in the
1960's and '70's. For a time, a new orthodoxy seemed to dominate
"enlightened" opinion, drawing on the widespread assumption that we lived
on the verge of a post-marital era of unfettered erotic expression.
More recently, we've witnessed a vigorous counter-revolution from the
traditionalist perspective. Even Playboy magazine reported last year that
virginity has become a sudden craze on college campuses, while Dr. Laura
enjoys considerably more contemporary clout than Dr. Ruth.
The result of these changes is the currently chaotic state of American
values --- a perplexity painfully displayed during the impeachment crisis
and innumerable other disputes. The nation at the moments seems
simultaneously puritanical and priapic, retro and revolutionary,
judgmental and juvenile. We cannot consistently answer some of the most
fundamental questions for any civilization: to what extent should private
erotic expression be expected to conform to public and perpetual
standards? Does morality require any restrictions -- or impose any
patterns -- on sexuality?
Looking to the future, the only sure bet for the next millenium is
that for a while, at least, the controversy and the contradictions will
JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show
broadcast in more than 110 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . You may contact him by clicking here.
11/03/99: Religion is unfairly blamed for the world's wars
10/06/99: Hollywood again makes drug use seem hip
08/25/99: NAACP attacks the wrong TV target
08/16/99: Government declares we're in a post-marriage age?
©1999, Michael Medved